Numbers vary, but it is said that between 65 – 100% of women experience a degree of diastasis recti during the course of pregnancy. While teaching postnatal yoga, I’ve noticed a number somewhere around 95% of women have some degree of gap.
What is it?
Diastasis recti is the gap or separation of the front abdominal muscles (the Rectus Abdominis) that occurs due to the pressure pregnancy puts onto the abdomen, also known as a “mummy tummy”.
Pregnancy puts so much pressure on the belly that sometimes the muscles in front can’t keep their shape. “Diastasis” means separation. “Recti” refers to your ab muscles called the “rectus abdominis.” – WebMD
How to know if you have diastasis recti?
You can test yourself for diastasis recti :
– Lying on your back, knees bent.
– Place your fingers along your mid line at belly button level, pressing them slightly inwards.
– Then lift the head and shoulders as if to do a sit-up.
– If your fingers can press down into a space in between your abdomen muscles, this is an indicator of diastasis recti.
What helped me
I became aware of mine during my first pregnancy. I was about 20 weeks pregnant in my midwife’s office for a routine exam. While coming up from a lying down position (a bit like at the beginning of a sit-up), I saw a sort of a triangular-shaped bulge popping up in the middle of my belly line (super weird!).
She informed me that it was diastasis recti.
“That’s diastasis recti!”
I definitely had no idea what she was talking about, but seeing as she didn’t look too worried about it, I hardly looked it up. I was actually quite lucky in my postpartum rehabilitation, and gained strength and tone back within a few weeks, though the gap didn’t entirely close.
With my second pregnancy however, my gap became wider and the healing process was much longer. It took me:
– 2-3 months to start reconnecting with my abs, or “feeling” them again
– 12-14 months to get all of my tone and support back
The gap has never completely closed, but I have learned to use my abdominal muscles in a functional way and consider myself to be “healed”.
Diastasis recti takes time to heal. These are tips that helped me, but there is an unbelievable amount of quality information online regarding the subject. For exercises specifically made to heal your diastasis recti, the MuTu system is an incredible resource.
Here are the tips and exercises that I used (and still use daily) to help me with my diastasis recti.
*As always, please consult with a licensed physician before beginning any new exercise program.
#1: NO MORE CRUNCHES
It’s a basic one, but any crunches (or classic sit-ups) should be avoided as they can impede the healing process and possibly make the gap worse by putting pressure on the abdomen wall. To build core strength, you can start with exercises like #3, “Diastasis Touch-Downs” (see below).
#2: LOG ROLL
Because we want to avoid “crunching” the abdominal muscles, which can make the split worse, think of using what I like to call the log roll, when going in and out of a lying down position.
To lay down with your back on the floor:
1 – Go down on your side first,
2 – Then roll onto your back, like in this example:
*Inverse when coming up:
1 – Roll onto your side first,
2 – Then press into the hands to come up.
#3: DIASTASIS TOUCH-DOWNS
This exercise is a safe way to access your lower core muscles and to start lighting up the transverse muscles, the muscles that will help to build the corset of support we’re aiming for.
1 – Lie down on your back (with a log roll!), knees bent and feet hip-width apart, hands on hips.
2 – Find neutral spine (there will be a space beneath the lower back, without over-arching) and bring navel towards spine.
3 – Lift the heels so that only toe mounds are touching the floor (Barbie foot as some call it :).
4 – Keeping the torso as stable as possible, lift one knee at a time:
– Exhale lift knee
– Inhale back down
5- Avoid swaying or tipping of the hips and ribs.
– 10-15 repetitions.
– Adding a Kegel to the exhale (while the knee lifts) will build even more heat to the lower core.
– You can also use a gentle version of Ujjayi breathing while you do this, warming you up from the Inside. It really feels great.
This is an abridged version of this exercise, find the detailed explanation here.
#4: BELLY BELT
Belly belts create support , like the one we’re trying to get back, so that the split doesn’t worsen. I didn’t think a belly belt would help me, so I never actually used one. I am mentioning it because it is recommended by some as being a part of diastasis recti rehabilitation, whereas it is also said that it can slow down the body’s natural ability to heal. I actually think that not using one may have slowed down my healing process by a few weeks.
Here is an example of a belly belt. (Amazon)
#5: DIAPHRAGM (OR BELLY) BREATHING
Belly breathing engages the transverse abdominal muscles which help to support the torso and eventually lessen the diastasis recti gap. Diaphragm breathing also helps to tone and keep the muscles of the torso supple.
Surprisingly, we’re not looking to get rock-hard abs to repair diastasis through strength, but more through proper alignment paired with supple core tone. A healthy muscle is one that can both contract and release.
Here are 4 exercises to help develop belly breathing:
#6: TIPS OF THE HIPS TOWARDS EACH OTHER
Think of: « bringing the front tips of the hips toward each other ». At the same time, also engage your belly button in (towards the spine).
* “Tips of the hips” is actually referring to the Anterior Superior Iliac Spines, the pointy parts at the front of the pelvis that you can press with your fingers.
This will eventually start activating the lower abdomen, or lower core, which is what we’re aiming for.
By engaging the transverse abdominals this also begins to create the “corset of support” that will be part of our healing process.
And it feels great to start to feel this part of the body waking up again after pregnancy!
A very useful tip to use in situations when strain might be put onto the abs, for example:
– While baby wearing
– While picking up baby car seat
– Pushing the stroller, especially uphill or over a curb, or obstacle.
A last idea: Try alternating! This has become a personal exercise I do as often as I an. Try bringing in one tip of the hip at a time, it almost feels a bit like belly dancing (which I get the sense would be great for diastasis recti!) and it engages the transverse abs, our friends.
Unless you’ve been advised not to do Kegels (see more), Kegel exercises are such an important part of postnatal rehabilitation, and can help in the healing process of diastasis recti. Why? Because exercising the muscles of the perineum will stimulate the lower abdominal muscles which in turn will help to create the base of the corset of support we’re looking to strengthen.
#8: DON’T TEST OFTEN
Once you’re on your path to healing diastasis recti, one of the things to avoid doing is “testing” your split, to see if it’s gotten any better, as this can impede the healing process or be discouraging. Try just doing it every so often, maybe once every few weeks if you feel the need to.
#9: GOOD POSTURE
A healthy posture is an incredibly powerful tool.
In the case of diastasis recti, an aligned body helps the core muscles to function in an optimal way, thus stabilizing the torso which in time allows for the gap to heal.
When we’re slouched, our abs don’t have the room or alignment to function properly!
This is Tip #3: “Shoulders Open, Heart Shine” (For diastasis recti, still think of softening the lower ribs downward, to avoid pressing the rib cage out. See all of the tips.)
#10: YOGA BALL HIP CIRCLES
Another way to create tone in the lower ab muscles is with yoga ball hip circles. Sit on a yoga ball, (or even just on your chair!) and start rotating the hips in a circle, while keeping the belly button gently activated towards the spine.
You’ll start to feel a little bit of heat in the lower abs with this exercise.
Besides being a wonderful way to bring our body back into itself after a pregnancy and birth, walking can help to regain core strength and be part of the healing process of diastasis recti. As it is a total body movement, walking engages core muscles while moving, which will bring healthy tone to the muscles.
Think of adding some of the tips from this list whilst you walk:
– Tips of the hips towards each other
– Good posture tips
#12: DURING YOGA, AVOID…
If you’re anything like me, you’re looking forward to getting back into your yoga routine and to start moving again after birth. If you have diastasis recti, it can be a good idea to hold out on the following, for a few weeks and I’d even say months, until you’re well on the path to healing:
– Diastasis recti or not, it is recommended to avoid plank position for the first 12 weeks postpartum. In the case of diastasis recti, I personally recommend avoiding it until you’re healed, which can take up to a year, or more.
– use half-plank, and don’t be shy to keep your bum a little higher than usual, this will avoid putting pressure onto the abdominal muscles:
2. COBRA TO DOWNDOG TRANSITION:
– This transition can really put strain on the abdomen muscles:
– keep the knees bent on the ground, bringing the hips back, to then transition into Downward Dog:
– This asana can also put quite a bit of pressure onto the abs.
– bend the front knee and place your hand for support, a version of Parsvakonasana:
It is tough when we’re looking forward to getting back into our pre-baby routine! But it is worth taking all the time in the world to heal, a moment in which to give ourselves grace and love and patience.
#13: USE YOUR HANDS TO BRING THE SIDE BODY + BELLY BUTTON IN
This is an interesting cue I discovered after my first pregnancy. It’s a way to simulate the “corset” action we’re looking to build up again.
– Sitting on a chair or in virasana with your back straight,
– Bring your left hand to the right waist, and your right hand to the left waist. Inhale here,
– Exhale move the elbows away from each other. This will bring your hands and waist towards your mid line. At the same time, engage your belly button towards the spine.
– Repeat 5-10- times, holding for a few breaths at the end.
This exercise will help to teach the transverse abs the direction in which we want them to work to help create the corset of support we’re going for.
#14: CHANGE YOUR IDEA ABOUT WHAT IT MEANS TO BE HEALED
As I’ve mentioned, I did not heal after my first baby, nor have I completely closed the gap after my second baby. But, my belly is back to being more or less as before (minus the stretch marks, lol) and I have the sense that I’m working in such a way that my muscles can move and breathe, and are functional while supporting me. I am so grateful to be back to a regular yoga practice and active life, during which I keep in mind the need to engage my transverse and core musculature to support my movements and effort.
Healing diastasis recti is a journey that takes time. I wish you grace and love on this journey, and I truly believe you can feel like you again with time!
For exercises specifically designed to build core strength and help heal diastasis recti:
The MuTu system is a proven resource for thousands of women on their journey to healing diastasis recti that gives you exercises and alignment adjustments to achieve a strong, functioning core (while understanding hormones and their effect on fat storage). Find out more
Here are some inspiring and very informative personal journeys that I’ve read on living with and healing diastasis recti:
Please share any useful tips in the comment section below!
Hi! I’m Myriam, a former dancer turned yoga teacher based in Montreal. I’m also mama to two unbearably beautiful little ones, ages 1 and 4. ? I believe in the virtues of bringing breath and body awareness as well as humor and loving-kindness to new mamas, and mamas-to-be! Read more→
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